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Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Brian Kolb proposes hydrofracking 'buffer zone' around Finger Lakes

BY JON CAMPBELL
ALBANY BUREAU

Posted: November 5, 2011
Originally Published: November 3, 2011

ALBANY — The Assembly's minority leader is pushing for a "buffer zone" around each of the Finger Lakes that would prevent natural-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing within 4,000 feet of the lakes.

Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, asked for the setback in formal comments he submitted late last month to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, saying its current proposed hydrofracking regulations offer "no substantive protection to these environmentally sensitive bodies of water."

"This serious omission is correctable through a minimum 4,000-foot buffer zone for each of the ten unprotected Finger Lakes," Kolb wrote.

Kolb's proposal would impact all but one of the Finger Lakes. Lake Skaneateles is part of the Syracuse watershed, where the DEC has already proposed banning surface drilling within 4,000 feet of its edge.

On Thursday, Kolb said he's supportive of allowing the controversial hydrofracking technique in New York, in part because of the expected economic windfall he expects it would bring to fiscally troubled communities above the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation.

He said he is concerned, however, about protecting the Finger Lakes and making sure local governments aren't on the hook for any damage the industry would bring to local roads and infrastructure.

A DEC spokeswoman said the agency would take all formal comments into account when it moves to finalize its hydrofracking regulations, which are currently open to comment until Dec. 12. The agency has said it expects to do at some point next year, though its unclear if any permits will be issued in 2012.

“We will consider all comments made during the comment period,” said Emily DeSantis, the spokeswoman. “Any final determinations on setbacks and other changes to the proposed mitigations will be based on science.”

The gas industry has started to speak out against the various setbacks and prohibitions that have been proposed by the DEC, saying they may be taking too much of the Marcellus Shale off of the table. Along with the Syracuse and New York City watersheds, the agency has also proposed a surface-drilling ban within primary aquifers and watersheds.

Conservation and anti-fracking groups have countered that the hydrofracking technique - which involves a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals blasted deep underground - could harm the environment.

Most of the Finger Lakes sit above the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations, though a DEC review of hydrofracking says the agency expects most gas exploration to take place closer to the Pennsylvania border in the Southern Tier.

Kolb said a buffer around each of the individual Finger Lakes rather than a ban across the entire region would still allow for plenty of gas drilling while easing the concerns of the public.

"Quite frankly, most of the shoreline in the Finger Lakes already has homes and a community established, though not all do," Kolb said Thursday at the Capitol. "I think a three-quarter mile area is more than a reasonable area for no drilling to be done and would provide a level of comfort for all of us who are looking out for the Finger Lakes."

Kolb's request was met with praise from Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a statewide advocacy group that has studied gas leases in the Finger Lakes region. The group released a report in July that found 30 percent of the gas rights to land in eight counties surrounding the lakes are under lease.

"These lakes are essential to the identity, the culture and the economy of this region," said Adrienne Esposito, the group's executive director. "We should not be rolling the dice with them."